A federal judge in San Antonio today sentenced 49-year-old Bradley Lane Croft, owner of Universal K-9, Inc., to 118 months of imprisonment for scheming to defraud the federal government of more than $1.5 million in Veterans Affairs GI Bill benefits to train service canines and their handlers.
In addition to the prison term, Senior U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra ordered that Croft pay $1,506,758.31 in restitution and be placed on supervised release for a period of three years after completing his prison term.
“Today’s sentence demonstrates what can happen to you if you choose to rip off one of the most important benefit programs we have for our veterans. My thanks goes to the prosecutors and our law enforcement partners who worked so hard to see justice served,” said U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff.
After a bench trial in November 2019, Judge Ezra found Croft guilty on eight counts of wire fraud, four counts of aggravated identity theft, two counts of money laundering and two counts of making a false tax return. Testimony during trial revealed that beginning in 2015, Croft provided false information in applications to the Texas Veterans Commission, including instructors’ names, certifications and training documents to receive GI Bill educational benefit payments. Croft and others solicited veterans as students indicating that they could use their GI Bill benefits to pay for a dog handler’s courses that cost between $6,500.00 and $12,000.00. During the scheme, Universal K-9 filed approximately 185 fraudulent claims relating to the education of about 132 veterans totaling over $1.5 million.
“The FBI is committed to working with our partners to protect important federal programs, like the GI Bill, which serves to improve the lives of men women who sacrifice so much to serve our nation,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, San Antonio Division. “Thanks to the hard work of IRS CI, VA-OIG, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the lead FBI investigator, a task force officer with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Croft’s fraud scheme and his betrayal of veterans has ended.”
Trial testimony also revealed that Croft submitted fraudulent income tax returns showing his 2016 reported income as $2,000 and his reported income as $2,000 for 2017. Evidence showed that Croft actually received substantially more income than what he reported to the IRS in 2016 and 2017.
“Defrauding programs such as the GI Bill, is particularly disturbing and a slap in the face to all the U.S. Service men and women who count on these programs to help improve their futures. Today’s stiff sentencing of Bradley Lane Croft, owner of Universal K-9, Inc., shows once again how harmful ‘white collar’ fraud can be,” said IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS CI) Special Agent in Charge Rick Goss, of the Houston Field Office. “IRS CI is proud to have worked with our FBI and VA-OIG counterparts to investigate and ultimately bring down Mr. Croft’s illicit scheme involving wire fraud, aggravated identify theft, money laundering, and the filing of false Federal Income tax returns.”
Judge Ezra also ordered Croft to forfeit: his San Antonio business property; approximately $239,825.73 seized from his bank accounts; approximately $4,372 seized on site at Universal K-9; a 2017 American Eagle 45T Motorhome (valued at over $450,000); a 2018 Ford F-150 King Ranch Lariat; a 2017 Dodge Ram 1500 Laramie; a 2016 Yamaha Superjet Ski; a 2008 Yamaha Waverunner Jet ski; and a 2012 Rocket International Trailer. Judge Ezra also granted the government’s motion for a money judgment in the amount of $1.3 million.
“The Post-911 GI Bill program provides critical educational and job benefits to veterans who served their country. This sentence sends a strong message that anyone who defrauds that program or veteran students will be held accountable in a court of law,” said U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Breen, South Central Field Office. “VA-OIG thanks the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and IRS CI for collaborating on this important case to achieve justice.”
On August 8, 2018, federal authorities executed a search warrant at Croft’s business in San Antonio. A total of 26 canines at the business were placed into the custody of the city’s Animal Care Services.
Croft has remained in federal custody since the verdict.
The FBI, VA-OIG and IRS CI investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gregory J. Surovic and Fidel Esparza III prosecuted this case.